His first night game of the year, in Dodger Stadium against a lineup filled with regulars, brought out the best in Angels left-hander Hector Santiago, who gave up three hits in five shutout innings in a 5-1 Freeway Series victory Friday night.
“It's more realistic, you feel like the season is starting,” Santiago said. “There's a little more adrenaline.”
The Angels can only hope Santiago takes this version of himself into the regular season. Known for his high pitch counts and walks, Santiago struck out four — including Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Kenta Maeda in the third — and walked none. He worked ahead in counts, and of his 73 pitches, 50 were strikes.
Santiago went 9-9 with a 3.59 earned-run average last season, striking out 162 and walking 71 in 1802/3 innings. In six of his starts, he threw at least 100 pitches without completing six innings. Santiago pitched to a 2.89 ERA in seven starts this spring, striking out 30 and walking six in 28 innings.
“Don't jinx it,” Santiago said, when asked about his lower walk rate. “I'm in attack mode, and over the years I've gotten more confident with all of my pitches. Before I would throw all first-pitch fastballs. Now it's first-pitch sliders, curves, changeups and cutters.
“If you can throw a breaking ball early in the count, that's a weapon. Then you have them guessing. They're not just up there first-pitch hacking.”
Maeda, who made his Dodger Stadium debut after signing an eight-year, $25-million contract in January, needed only 49 pitches to complete his scheduled four innings, in which he gave up two runs and three hits, struck out two and walked none.
The right-hander retired the side in order in three of four innings, showing a nice velocity differential between his fastball (90-92 mph), slider/changeup (81-82 mph) and curve (71-73 mph). His only trouble came in the third when he gave up singles to Geovany Soto and Rafael Ortega to open the inning.
Johnny Giavotella struck out, but Yunel Escobar lined a run-scoring single to center that advanced Ortega to third, and Ji-Man Choi followed with an RBI groundout for a 2-0 lead.
Giavotella and Escobar contributed RBI singles in a three-run seventh off Dodgers relievers Yimi Garcia and Chris Hatcher, the final run scoring on Shane Robinson's safety squeeze bunt that made it 5-0.
Seager's RBI single in the eighth made it 5-1, and the Dodgers went on to load the bases off Angels closer Huston Street with two outs. But right-hander Cam Bedrosian replaced Street and got Rob Segedin to fly out to the warning track in left.
Seager, making his second straight start after missing three weeks because of a left-knee sprain, played all nine innings, a strong indication that the highly touted rookie shortstop will be ready for Monday's season opener.
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, who is recovering from right-foot surgery and has been relegated to designated-hitter duty for most of the spring, made his second start in the field and played five innings without incident.
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.